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Iraqi army drives Islamic State from Christian region near Mosul

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The advance took place as U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived on a visit to Baghdad to meet Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and assess the campaign that started on Monday with air and ground support from the U.S-led coalition

Iraqi army troops on Saturday stormed into a Christian region that has been under Islamic State control since 2014 as part of U.S.-backed operations to clear the entrances to Mosul, the militants' last major city stronghold in Iraq.

The advance took place as U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived on a visit to Baghdad to meet Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and assess the campaign that started on Monday with air and ground support from the U.S-led coalition.

A military statement said Iraqi units entered the center of Qaraqosh, a mainly Christian town about 20 kms (13 miles) southeast of Mosul, and were carrying out mop-up operations across the town.

Further action was under way to seize a neighboring Christian village, Karamless, also known as Karemlash in the Syriac language. The region's population fled in the summer of 2014, when Islamic State swept in.

Earlier this week, Iraqi special units also captured Bartella, a Christian village north of Qaraqosh.

A U.S. military official estimated there were fewer than a couple of hundred Islamic State fighters in Qaraqosh.

"I've seen berms in Qaraqosh. I anticipate there'll be trenches, there'll be passageways between different buildings," the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Reuters